Pearson School.

Pearson Sixth Grade Center was a K-5 elementary school before 2012, and in 2018-19, it was slotted to return to its roots and become an elementary school before that plan was nixed due to a budget deficit.

The Shakopee School Board discussed the possibility of moving Central Family Center, an early childhood center located across from the Scott County Courthouse on Holmes Street, to the vacant Pearson Elementary building off Dakota Street at its Jan. 11 school board retreat.

The discussion came after the Shakopee Community Facilities Task force presented at a December school board meeting and flagged Central Family Center as a building that needed attention.

School board member Angela Tucker said at that meeting that she has a son who attended Central Family Center and never felt it was safe, due to its narrow stairways that made it difficult for parents with strollers and heavy car seats, and a parking lot children could easily run into if someone left the gate open.

Pearson Elementary was permanently closed in January 2018 to help alleviate budget pressure as the district faced a deficit.

The task force pointed out at its December presentation that the Central Family Center building is 3.5 floors and there are levels that can’t accommodate classrooms with certain age groups. It also discovered insufficient parking and room sizes that were smaller than typical preschool rooms. The vacant Pearson Elementary School is one level and would alleviate that issue.

“It’s no secret that I’ve always wanted the Central Family Center in a new location,” Tucker said. “It’s just not safe. If they can go to Pearson, I’m cool with it, I’m just a little nervous about what the cost would be.”

The school board asked cabinet members to compare the annual cost of mothballing a vacant Pearson Elementary versus the cost of moving the early childhood center to Pearson. Superintendent Mike Redmond said he has set up a meeting with staff to get those questions answered, but the district likely wouldn’t have those answers ready for a few more days.

At the retreat, Redmond said there were several options regarding what to do with the family center if the preschool were to be moved to Pearson, such as leasing it out, shuffling some of the district offices to the building or selling the property altogether. However, if the district were to demolish Central Family Center, board member Matt McKeand pointed out there would likely be upset residents, since the family center was Shakopee’s original school built more than 120 years ago and holds a rare piece of the town’s history. Plus, he said, the cost of tearing it down would likely be equal to the value the land would sell for.

“In my ideal world we’d open pre-k at Pearson and then figure out what to do with Central,” McKeand said. “We have to study it, but we have a goal.”

Based on the information at hand, the other board members were also keen on the idea of moving the early childhood center, saying if Shakopee did need to add a new school in the next 10 years to accommodate for new growth, Pearson is not located in an area where that growth is occurring.

“We have beautiful accommodations for our students,” board member Judi Tomczik said. “But for a lot of our parents, their first introduction to the students is Central.”

Tomczik added having a vacant elementary school in the community is a sticking point for many residents, and filling it with an early childhood center might help mitigate some of that frustration.

Board member Paul Christiansen said he also wants the board to focus on moving the district’s Central Duplicating employees from their current location in the basement of Central Family Center to a better location, after the facilities task force noted several safety and efficiency concerns regarding that work space.

“What would it cost for (Central Duplicating) people to be leasing space here?” Christiansen asked, referring to the district offices at Shakopee Town Square.

Redmond said that’s one of the things the district is looking into.

Maddie DeBilzan graduated with a journalism degree from Bethel University. She’s interned at Salon Media and the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Outside of work, she sifts through Goodwill clothing racks, listens to Ben Rector's music and goes on long runs.

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